Last year I spoke at the National Press Club about America’s unique contributions to the world – including our long standing tradition of “loving our neighbors as ourselves” through voluntary associations and non profits.
Civil society, as it is called, was a unique hallmark of American democracy and limited government -- a fundamental difference between our way of addressing social need from that of state-directed, top down approaches that have dominated European society for centuries.
Our founders were shaped by an appreciation for and understanding of voluntary associations and civil society as articulated by political philosopher Edmund Burke: “To love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country and to mankind.”
Civil society institutions are essential to the flourishing of our society in part because they efficiently (compared to government programs) care for “the least of these” whether they be orphans, widows, the destitute or those challenged with disabilities. In addition, many of our social ills are not a result of material deprivation, but of behavior, and the government is hardly the agent to promote virtue and develop character. Again, civil society, most notably faith-based institutions, rather than government is better equipped to address matters of the soul and spirit. Finally, voluntary associations connect us together in a way that government never can, and help fire the melting pot that has made us such a unique country where out of our diversity we become one.
But just has he is attacking the vibrancy of the economic sector with new government regulations and burden, President Barack Obama is systematically imposing government rule upon established civil institutions, in a sense usurping the role that voluntary societies and non profits have played throughout our history. According to his administration, individuals, families and communities do not know what is best; Big Brother does. From health care to education, welfare to religion, Uncle Sam is imposing strict regulations that weaken the “social economy” and thwart civil society. Let me detail just three of his efforts to undermine civil society:
First, and most notably, government hubris was recently displayed in the new mandate under Obamacare that violates the conscience rights of religious organizations, particularly Catholics. Nearly all religious organizations are now required that their health insurers provide employees with free birth control and sterilization procedures—including the morning-after pill. Despite the administration’s attempts at “accommodation,” the mandate still violates religious freedom. Catholic institutions—hospitals, schools, charities—that serve the poor and treat the sick will be forced to betray their basic religious tenets or else face millions of dollars in fines. The choice is clear: abandon your faith or go out of business. This represents a radical assault upon the Church and faith-based organizations of all types.
Second, to fund his expansion of the government into the private sector health care, However, President Barack Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 proposed raising taxes on those who can give the most and reduce their income tax deduction for charitable giving. The Administration’s budget included proposals to raise tax rates on high-income earners and to reduce their tax deduction rate on gifts to charities, again shifting power and resources from charity to government. The Tax Policy Center estimated that this will reduce charitable giving by $9 billion. We should be encouraging giving to others, not eliminating incentives that do so.
Third, in a major shift from the Bush administration, the Obama-constructed White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships did not include the Bush-era tacit exemption from federal non-discrimination in hiring requirements for faith-based ministries. The Administration said they will handle this on a case-by-case basis while deciding whether to change federal rules. But as I have said in many settings, when government “gives us rights” it can take them away. Isn’t freedom of religion one of the foundational rights that is God-given and not government-granted?
It is clear by Mr. Obama’s policies that he believes government knows best. The president’s worldview seeks to stifle individual and community initiative, shunning hard work, personal responsibility, self-reliance and communal giving. But what makes America great is her tradition of caring for one another. When times get tough, Americans have historically relied on their families, neighbors and voluntary organizations—not the government.
Glenn Beck has announced the “Restoring Love” in Dallas, Texas from July 26-28 to affirm this unique contribution the American Experiment has offered the world. The gathering will focus on the importance of serving God and others and will be about “a life change.” About reorienting one’s life towards service and helping others, not adopting an entitlement mentality so cherished by the Obama administration.
I applaud Glenn’s efforts. While I was a U.S. Senator representing Pennsylvania, I worked hard to pass legislation that supported civil society and encouraged charitable giving. For example, I sponsored the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act which tapped into America’s renewed spirit of unity, community and responsibility in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The bill harnessed the potential of charitable organizations to help the federal government provide social welfare services to those most in need. I detail in my book It Takes A Family many other ways I proposed to promote civil society, from keeping trial lawyers suing people and charities that risk themselves doing good, to promoting a charitable tax credit focused on poverty non-profits so that you can direct your taxes to charities that you want to help the poor rather than the government deciding how to spend it.
Government is supposed to protect individuals, families and communities. Mr. Obama’s policies have done the exact opposite. They have expanded government power while undermining personal freedom, religious liberty and traditional American values. Civil society cannot survive when faith, freedom and the family are under assault.
The heart of America lies in restoring love, family, charity and voluntary service. Let us rally together to make this happen.